WCO.240: The GaMERCaT
Once upon a time, two guys write a webcomic about video games. This got everyone’s attention because no one had ever done it before. The comic seemed to say, “Hey guys, we have a hobby that no one has ever made jokes about really. Come here and enjoy our gamer jokes and our references that people in the mainstream won’t make because they think it’s too obscure.”
There guys got successful, and people paid attention. Many readers loved video games too and also loved to draw. Suddenly, new comics seemed to pop up all the time with jokes about video games. People kept reading them and buying T-shirts depicting licensed products like the kind you’d find tightly sandwiched between other shirts on a table at the neighborhood flea market.
But as video games became more mainstream, a lot of the humor seemed tired and repetitive. There are only so many times you can mock politicians who are critical of video game violence, after all. Especially when that fount of rage ceases to become a pressing issue anymore. After almost 20 years, there had to be some way to keep the humor fresh in a world where The Big Bang Theory is the highest rated show on television.
What about a website that combines the internet’s biggest obsession in the aughts: video game webcomics … and cats?
Has the marrow of gamer humor been sucked dry? For all the advances in console technology, shifting over the years from PS2 to PS3 to PS4 (or, alternately and more bafflingly, one to 360 and back to One again), the actual content doesn’t seem to change that much. There’s always been a Mario and a Link, Assassin’s Creed went from innovative newcomer to long-running franchise, and Pokemon gets relaunched on a mobile platform to snag a whole new generation of kids. So, statistically speaking, it’s possible that every single Mario, Link, Assassin’s Creed, and Pokemon joke has already been told.
It’s not like The GAMERCaT doesn’t fall into the same pitfalls. I’m sure I’ve seen the Portal gag before where the game mechanic is manipulated by the lazy. (Or maybe I’m thinking of a classic Simpsons gag. What makes GAMERCaT unique, though, is the delivery. While almost all early video game comics followed the lead of Penny Arcade and lazily inserted vulgarity and needless violence for humor, GAMERCaT takes the opposite approach. Whitten writes a comic that would look at home in the newspaper funny pages.
Is this a video game comic that features a lot of hugging and kissing? You bet your ass it does.
Now, there’s actually a mythos of sorts to the GAMERCaT universe. The world operates on Beverly Hills Chihuahua rules. People can’t understand pets, which is all just “meow” to them. We readers, though, cannot only understand them speak to echo other in perfectly good English, we can peek into their rich fantasy life. They assume the identities of their video game characters though the power of Imagination… like the Muppet Babies.
(And now that I think of it… GAMERCaT’s human functions much like that show’s nanny.)
GAMERCaT is a cat who is obsessed with owning the latest consoles and getting a 100% completion on every game. He’s no freeloader, though. He has a job running a chat helpline to help pay for his games. His owner doesn’t know about this, what with him knowing nothing about his talking cat. The cat, instead, hides his games among the copious library of jewel cases jammed on the owner’s shelves.
I don’t know why he needs to bother, single all he ever seems to play is Assassin’s Creed and Zelda games.
GAMERCaT eventually brings in a stray named Glitch, a precocious scamp who is but the first of this comic’s version of the Cadillac Cats. His appearance is the first indication of the tone the comic will be taking. GAMERCaT dotes on him like a dad or big brother. As newer characters are introduced, they take roles that less resemble gamer archetypes and more like family. Glitch is joined by a burly dude named Sweet, a bespectacled gamer girl named Pixel, and a youngster named Nano who has a big crush on our hero. And also she’s the Nyan cat. They’re bound by their love of video games, though each has their own play styles and preferred games. Nano, for example, is a big Dark Souls fan, while cynical Sweet is critical of “achievements”.
As with many of these comics that try to remain relevant by commenting on current trend, The GAMERCaT proved to be something of a nostalgia trip. While Link is forever, other strips are odd little time capsules. Remember when Cookie Clicker was a thing?
Overall, the message behind The GAMERCaT is that gaming is a good thing. It doesn’t shy away from some more detrimental aspects. Greed gets the best of GAMERCaT sometimes, and Glitch has so little self control that he easily becomes a wreck. (Interestingly, one of Whitten’s recurring themes are about how old school playtime and making social connections are more rewarding than gaming.)
Yet, for the most part, gaming is a way to bring people together. Compare that with most gaming comics from ten years ago, where gaming proponents painted the community as the most self-centered, irascible, whiny, and unlikable people on the planet. It makes The GAMERCaT look like a truly magnificent achievement.
Sprinkle in the occasional animation and you’d be hard pressed to find a gaming comic quite this delightful.
NOTE: Upon finishing this review, I realized that the unique capitalization of the title has the first “a” be in lowercase. It’s GaMERCaT, not GAMERCaT. I’m not changing it though, because come on.